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"The Invisible War"

U.S. Documentary

***1/2 (three and a half stars)

With the controversies over U.S. use of torture and indefinite imprisonment winding down along with U.S. invovlment in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kirby Dick's powerful and troubling "The Invisible War" probes another scandal the military appears reluctant to deal with: rape of service members by their comrades.

The statistics on the military's rape epidemic, alone, are disturbing: One in five service members, mostly women, have been sexually assaulted, bringing the total to 500,000 in the modern military—twice the rate for the civilian population. Only 21 percent of reported cases (and only a tiny percentage are reported) are ever prosecuted. Then, because of the commanders' control of the military justice system, the prosecutions seldom result in jail time.

Because of the military's closed culture, rape expert describes it as "a prime, target-rich environment for a sexual predator." And because so few rapists are prosecuted or serve jail time, investigators speculate that emboldened predators serial rape with impunity. "Why would they stop?" asks a sexual crimes investigator.

In "Invisible War," Dick brings the statistics home through agonizing interviews with former members of the Navy, Marines, Army and Coast Guard who were raped, then further victimized by the military justice system.

Their stories follow a sad pattern: Commanding officers, who control the investigations and prosecutions, question the victim's motives and, in some cases, order investigations of the victims for adultery and making false charges. In almost all cases, the victims' military careers are finished.

"These are women that, even now, would rather be in the military," Dick said in an interview. "This was their dream — to serve their country."

The victims spoke of patriotism or family military history as their motivation for enlisting, most loved their jobs. Dick emphasizes the women would only participate in the documentary on condition it wouldn't be an anti-military film.

"This is one of the most pro-military films to come out of Sundance," Dick says. "All of our subjects were very idealistic and proud to have served."

Still, you won't see "Invisible War" being used for recruiting purposes anytime soon.

—Glen Warchol